Sharing my fascination with the natural world through essays and photography
Friday, March 8, 2013
Spring weather is really moving into gear now and I was just outside doing a little weeding in our front yard. Actually, there are very few plants that come up in the yard that I pull because I consider them to be pesky weeds. I yank out anything invasive and exotic, like Oxalis (pretty flowers, but spreads like crazy by obnoxious little corms), Ardesia (spreads by pretty berries) and Camphor tree sprouts. I also pull up Bidens (read my blog post to understand why) and Sedge Grass. But mostly what I do is try to contain the exuberance of the native plants that self-seed, perhaps a little too enthusiastically, by doing some creative thinning.
Bumper Crop of Betony
One native plant that is going gangbusters this year is Stachys floridana, otherwise known as Florida Betony or Rattlesnake Weed. When we first moved to Florida and I set out to tame our new yard, I found a huge patch of Betony. It was growing in a patch of ornamental grass and ivy, so I figured it should be pulled out. And when I pulled, I learned why they call it "Rattlesnake Weed". When you pull up a handful of the green stems and leaves, you also get a tangle of white roots, festooned with tubers that resemble a snake's rattle. I wasn't sure what to think of them when I first saw them and was frankly a little creeped out. But later I learned a secret. You can eat them! The tubers are sweet and starchy, with a texture somewhat like a radish and a flavor like jicama. They're delightful!
Betony Roots Tubers and Roots
Stachys floridana is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It has a square stem and hairy, heart shaped opposite leaves with scalloped edges. It flowers in the spring, with dainty pink blossoms in the shape characteristic of the mint and sage family. It was once thought to be a Florida endemic, which means it only occurs in Florida, but has since been found outside of the state. In fact, betony is classified as an invasive exotic in N. Georgia and and is on a watch list for North Carolina and Tennessee. Just another example of what bad things happen when a perfectly good plant is transported outside of its ecosystem. There are no natural pests or diseases to keep it in check, and soon it takes over and outcompetes native species. In Florida, where it is native, Stachys is still considered a landscape and lawn weed in many places and people spend a lot of money and time trying to get rid of it. I guess that people don't like the way it looks. I feel happy that we have the type of yard and live in the type of neighborhood that it is ok to just let the Betony grow, because I think it's rather pretty and interesting.
Stachys floridana in bloom
So now, while I still thin the Betony when we get too much, I always leave some so I can see the pretty flowers. And I munch as I go. If we're lucky, I can gather enough to toss into a salad.